As I mentioned in my previous post, this was an important game for the Devils to win were they to challenge for the #1 seed on the Eastern Conference. In the beginning of the game, prior to the puck was dropped, it was learned that defenseman Colin White would not play (neither would Brian Gionta) leaving the Devils with only 5 defensemen on the bench. Early on in the game, Erik Rasmussen took a puck to the mouth and did not return; leaving the Devils with 11 forwards on the bench for most of the game. Yes, almost just like the Pittsburgh game, the Devils were short two skaters for a majority of the game.
I'm very proud at how the Devils played against Buffalo. They hustled all game long, they took many opportunities on offense to make Ryan Miller work, and there were only two stretches of the game where the Sabres really took control of the game: the last 6 minutes of the second period and the last 4 minutes of the third period. The Sabres played well in their own right. They put a lot of shots on Brodeur, 33 in total, and the goals they scored were solid. Zubrus' goal was a laser that just found a tiny hole and got in; Briere's tip in was impeccable. They didn't give up, but the Devils fought valiantly to control most of the game, take the sell-out crowd out of the game, and earned 2 points.
Head coach Claude Julien did a better job with the short bench, balancing out the minutes for all players. Paul Martin only played 28:49 as opposed to the insane 34 minutes he played against Pittsburgh, and was still effective. Brad Lukowich played well, you wouldn't have thought he was injured from Thursday night. Andy Greene stepped up, getting a healthy 18 minutes and not looking out of place for a majority of them. On the forwards, only Cam Janssen got the short end of the stick ice-time wise. Instead, Julien rolled three lines, rotating forwards to mix it up. I've seen combinations such as the old J-line (Pandolfo-Madden-Langenbrunner), Zach Parise up with Patrik Elias and Scott Gomez, and they all worked. The Devils were strong on defense, holding off an aggressive and desperate Buffalo attack at the end. The Devils collectively blocked 22 shots: Martin and Brian Rafalski blocking 4 shots each.
Rafalski scored a beautiful game-winner as well. Sergei Brylin accidentally hits a Sabre (I believe it was Derek Roy) up in the face and cuts him late in the second period. That's a textbook double minor for high sticking, regardless of intent and the Devils had a tough kill ahead. The Sabres tied up the game prior to the penalty and they were looking to take the lead. So naturally, the Devils get two scoring chances on the kill. The first was a Miller save on John Madden. The second saw a 3 on 1, with Brian Rafalski jumping up on the play. It shocked me because normally when a team is on the penalty kill, you'd want your defensemen to stay back. Should the play breakdown, Buffalo would have a great scoring chance on the counter-attack. But it didn't. Rafalski jumped up to pound a wrist shot through Miller's legs for the Devils to take the lead. It was the Devils' third shorthanded goal all season and it proved to be the game winner. In honesty, Rafalski should have been the first star of the game for his excellent defending and getting the game winner over Patrik Elias (who also played really well); but to be more honest, the Devils beating the Buffalo Sabres short 2 skaters is such a great feat that I don't even care about who was named which star.
As an aside, I must emphasize that this was a great hockey game. Hockey isn't the only sport I watch; whereas I love hockey, I also like soccer. On GolTV, there was the "SuperClassico" between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Two powerhouse (and rich) teams and bitter rivals taking each other on, with the winner improving their chances to win La Liga (there's no playoffs, it's whoever is in first place gets the title). The game was fast, it was emotional, it was dramatic, and it ended in a 3-3 tie where all 6 goals were the result of hard work. The commentator Ray Hudson claimed that the game was something you don't just say is a game for all-time; but it's a game you'd show to Martians - to show them what human sport was all about. Perhaps I'm colored by my love of hockey and the New Jersey Devils, but while that game was great (all-time? a tie? I wouldn't say so) I feel the Sabres-Devils game was a better game. It was exciting, the Devils were short two players on their bench and played their hearts out, and the game went down to the wire.
Now the Devils sit one point behind Buffalo. Granted, the Sabres have a game in hand, so the Devils will have some catch up to do. However, now the Sabres and their fans ought to be nervous. Earlier in the season, it looked like they were running away with the conference. Now they have to worry about the New Jersey Devils, who are right on their tails. Great job, great win. The Devils will enjoy a 3 day break before hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final time this season on Wednesday. They have certainly earned it. (As an aside: I hope next season there will be enough cap room for the Devils to call up players in the case of injury. As much as these two wins have shown guts, short benches are a bad idea.)
Labels: Devils Postgame